Couple honor Shanksville ‘angels’ with documentary and garden


Tony and Kitch Mussari believe the victims of Flight 93 are often overlooked.

Mussari, 69, of Dallas, and his wife, the former Kitch Loftus, 62, have transformed much of their property on Windsor Drive in Dallas into “Windsor Park” – a walking trail of greenery, ponds, benches and tributes. One of the tributes is to the memory of the 40 passengers of Flight 93.

(Kitch and Tony Mussari of Dallas in their Angel Garden, a memorial to Flight 93 victims of Sept 11. Picture by Clark Van Orden/The Times Leader)

Called “The Angel Garden,” it contains markers and names of all the passengers and crew members, a Flight 93 flag and a rock for every life lost at all sites on 9/11. It’s a labor of love and deep respect for the victims, their families and friends.

A weather vane near the top of the garden points due west towards Shanksville.

“Shanksville is always somewhat forgotten in the discussions of 9/11,” Mussari said. “The 40 people on that airplane prevented it from hitting the Capitol when both houses of Congress were in session. Their act of courage and heroism ranks among the highest and purest forms of heroism and courage in our history.”

Mussari leaned back and tried to put himself on the hijacked plane.

“Think about it. You know this plane is destined to crash and you are traveling in the last part of this journey,” he said. “You’re going about 565 miles per hour and you’re at the level where cell towers pick up cell phone calls and you have the kind of courage and determination to try to take over control of the aircraft.”

The Mussaris have dedicated much of the last 10 years to remembering Shanksville and the victims of Flight 93. Each year they produce an anniversary video about the crash and this year, the 10th, will be their final edition. They have completed 22 documentary films on Shanksville and Flight 93.

“We will still visit the site; it’s only four hours away,” Mussari said. “We have many friends there. As much as we don’t want to let it go, there comes a time that you must.”

Over the past decade, the Mussaris have taken many groups to the site – more than 500 students and adults in all.

“Once you’ve been there and you meet the people who are trying to keep the memories of those 40 victims alive, you feel much closer to them and the tragedy of Flight 93,” Kitch said. “You soon realize that 9/11 is much more than ground zero.”

That’s not to disparage anyone, the Mussaris quickly note. They honor and respect every victim of 9/11 and their families. But they feel too often Shanksville is not held in the same regard as the other events of 9/11.

Tony Mussari said when he first visited the site of the crash – and on every other occasion he and Kitch have been there – the experience is the same. People coming to see where the plane carrying the “40 angels of freedom” came down. Tony Mussari said the experience is so compelling, nearly every visitor wants to leave some part of themselves behind to pay tribute to the victims.

“In driving rainstorms, the people came,” he said. “In winter when the ground was covered with 6 inches of snow and in blistering heat, people came and left things. There is this connection with these brave Americans whose names nobody knew, but did what Americans do in their finest hour.

“We must never permit ourselves to forget not only the act of courage, but the values of the people who were both on the plane and the people of Shanksville,” he said.

Around the path from the Angel Garden is the Garden of Life. Here are rocks with words like “imagine, dream, belief and 125 more that speak to life.” A 37-year-old Chinese Dawn Maple Tree stands nearby. A bench underneath awaits visitors. Neighbors stop by with their children and grandchildren to watch the fish in the ponds and learn about life and history, including the events of 9/11.

“The selfless, heroic acts of those 40 people, put themselves in harm’s way to avoid a tragedy of even larger proportion,” Mussari said.

“They made their last moments the most meaningful of service that makes us all proud to be Americans.”

The first time he visited the site, Tony Mussari said he just stood there and looked at the large space where the plane crashed.

“Something happened,” he said. “I thought, ‘What would you do if you were on that plane?’ That thought, that feeling was overwhelming.”

Reprinted with permission from The Times Leader


In Focus: We still have much to learn from Judge Max Rosenn

Written by Bill O’Boyle, The Times Leader
Photography, Aimee Dilger, The Times Leader

March 29. 2015 5:30PM – 1004 Views

WILKES-BARRE — Every chance I get I still watch reruns of “Leave It To Beaver.” There’s nothing like those life lessons learned from the Cleaver family of Mayfield.

I have always proposed that every family be court-ordered toRosenn Pict TL watch “Beaver” with their children. They will learn manners, respect, honesty, integrity, fairness, humility and loyalty. These values are essential to being a good human being — one who is less likely to build a meth lab in the back yard and more likely to finish school, get a job, raise a family and contribute positively to society.

“Leave It To Beaver,” I surmise, is a show that the late Judge Max Rosenn also enjoyed. If he didn’t, then he sure served as an adviser to the show’s producers.

Rosenn died in 2006 at the age of 96.

I attended last week’s lecture at Wilkes University given by my friend, Tony Mussari, a former King’s College professor and a noted filmmaker. Mussari and his wife, Kitch Loftus, have produced some of the finest documentaries that not only inform, but challenge you to be a better person.

Like Judge Rosenn.

The lecture was part of the Drs. Robert S. and Judith A. Aimee picture-2Gardner Educational Forum Series and featured the Mussari-produced documentary “Judge Max Rosenn: A Man for All Seasons.” Mussari directed the discussion about honor, service and community leadership — the values lived by Judge Rosenn.

I have to admit, it was enjoyable, yet somewhat melancholy to sit and watch Judge Rosenn being interviewed. Mussari said Rosenn was about 94 when the interview was filmed, about two years before his death. Judge Rosenn was sharp as ever, articulating as only he could about living a good life.

I was fortunate to have many conversations with Judge Rosenn over the years. I know I benefited from all of them, learning something new and thought-provoking every time.

Judge Rosenn once said too many elected officials are more concerned about retaining their offices than serving their constituents.

He also said “the God of money” has taken over our world, especially our political process.

When asked how you mold a person of high moral character and integrity, Judge Rosenn said it all starts at home. He said those formative years, up until 12 or so, are critical in the formation of a person. He said schools and churches are also key in the continuance of the evolution of a genuine, caring human being.

This could explain the importance of “Leave It To Beaver” in my life and the lives of so many others.

Judge Rosenn talked about respect for fellow human beings. He spoke of morality. As someone said, “Judge Rosenn was a good man who lived a good life.”
That’s about as good as it gets.

Judge Rosenn said the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the U.S. were carried out by people “devoid of humaneness; devoid of compassion.” How else can you explain their intent to take so many innocent lives?

The eloquence of Judge Rosenn’s words never lessened as the years went by. He always managed to put things in perfect perspective.

Mussari said he worries about the future for his grandchildren. He told the Wilkes students he worries for the lives they will have in this ever-changing, deteriorating world society. He points to Judge Rosenn for guidance.

“The example of Judge Rosenn has to live on,” Mussari said. “His words have to be put back on the minds of young people.”

Mussari said there is a growing conflict between moral character and performance character. He said the values Judge Rosenn possessed must be instilled in all of us or the world will only get worse.

Mussari said Rosenn was “A Man for All Seasons.”

Rosenn once said: “Your value lies not in your status or your title; but in the roots of your character and the depth of your compassion.”

Long live Judge Max Rosenn.

Wilkes students view documentary film on Gettysburg
The Times Leader

October 02. 2014 6:26PM – 1913 Views

By Bill O’Boyle

Photograph by Fred Adams

WILKES-BARRE — Honor and valor, along with character, courage, humility and integrity were words discussed and their definitionsWilkes Presentation displayed at length Wednesday during a two-hour presentation at Wilkes University.

Dr. Tony Mussari Sr., retired King’s College professor, spoke to a group of Wilkes education students about his latest film — “Four Days of Honor and Valor in Gettysburg.” His presentation was part of the Drs. Robert S. and Judith A. Gardner Educational Forum Series that features speakers from the educational and business community.

When the film ended and Mussari stopped speaking, the students came away impressed, challenged and determined to follow the examples depicted in the film.

The documentary was filmed during the 150th Medal of Honor Convention, held in September 2013, in Gettysburg. Six Junior ROTC students from North Plainfield (N.J.) High School are featured: Adriana Miranda, senior; Elijah Sheridan, junior; Jared Ruiz, junior; Ruel Lindsay, junior; Kyle Pacla, junior; and Nancy Bahnasy, sophomore.

The students got to meet and talk to several recipients of the Medal of Honor and they heard the selflessness of each story and the attitude of “we did what we had to do” that echoed through the four days.

And the echoes reverberated at Wilkes, where the students gained a perspective on how important it is to live one’s life in an honorable and ethical way.

Mussari began with a thought for the day from George Washington, the father of our country, who said: “Labor to keep alive in your breast, that little spark of celestial fire called conscience.”

The New Jersey School Boards Association has supported publication and distribution of a teaching guide of Mussari’s documentary that will be used in all New Jersey public high schools.

“I’m worried about your generation,” Mussari said. “I’m not afraid for your future, but I am concerned.”

Medal of Honor

So Mussari embarked on this journey, with his wife, Kitch Loftus Mussari, to film another documentary to add to their list of completed projects, like those on the Agnes Flood of 1972, the Centralia Fire in 1982 and the Windsor Park series.

This project was 15 months in the making and included 21 trips to Gettysburg, site of the bloodiest battle of the Civil War.

As the students watched the documentary, they learned there are 3,462 Medal of Honor recipients, all but one are men; 63 of them fought at Gettysburg and 1,522 fought in the Civil War. The Medal of Honor is the highest award for valor in action against an enemy force which can be bestowed upon an individual serving in the Armed Services of the United States.

As Vietnam veteran and Medal of Honor recipient Barney Barnum said, “I’m not a hero. I’m just Barney Barnum,” the students pondered the question often asked: “What motivated them to do what they did?”

There were plenty of reasons offered, but the overriding response was: “We did what we had to do.”

The students learned the hardest thing to do is doing the right thing, but most of the Medal of Honor recipients in the documentary agreed that when faced with a dangerous situation, a moment arrives when all just reacted and they did what had to be done.

As Sal Giunta, the youngest recipient who served in Afghanistan, said, “Right will always be right.”

Mussari said the lessons learned in Gettysburg need to be learned throughout the U.S. He said one-third of children are born into single-parent families. He said numbers are always increasing of grandparents raising their grandchildren.

“These are challenging times,” Mussari said. “These trends need to change.”

The Wilkes students said the documentary opened their eyes and they came away impressed by how each recipient disregarded their own safety to do what was necessary for the good of their comrades, their communities and their country.

(The Medal of Honor statistics in the documentary reflect the number of recipients as of September 2013)

Four Days of Honor and Valor in Gettysburg

Documentary Review
Mike Lewis


What an amazing effort by Tony and Kitch Mussari.

I wasn’t prepared for the emotional impact of this documentary.

High School ROTC cadets meet and spend time with a few ofClarence the men who received the nation’s highest military honor. It all happens during the 2013 Medal of Honor Convention in one of the most significant cities in American history. Gettysburg!

An amazing backdrop that takes viewers on a wonderfully hopeful, educational and insightful journey that leaves you wanting more!

Wait until you see how Medal of Honor recipients relay what they’ve learned to the young cadets and how it impacts these potential future leaders.

I was struck by the character traits shared by the Medal of Honor recipients in this program and how each trait could or should be applied to my daily civilian life!
four days_400 2014

I think after you see it, you’ll share my view on this documentary.

You will walk away with new hope for a nation and a renewed hope for your own life!
I sure did.

The on screen look of this documentary is perfect.

The editing is wonderfully paced and includes hundreds of graphics that re-enforce what’s being said on screen.

Clearly, the writer, photographer and producers of this documentary have invested thousands of hours of work in this project.

Yet, there’s nothing slick here.

Just thoughtful, insightful work, with a potential life-changing message for young and old alike.

The best yet, from Tony and Kitch Mussari.

Walking into the Light at Gettysburg

BK_Students with the Lincoln_350

Documentary film on Civil War inspires today’s youth

By William C. Kashatus

Americans are celebrating this year’s 150thTitle Walking Into the Light_250 anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg in a variety of ways, but one of the most unique commemorations has come in the form of a documentary film titled “Walking into the Light at Gettysburg.”

Produced by filmmaker Anthony Mussari, emeritus professor at King’s College and his wife, Kitch Loftus, a TonyKitch Mussari_250retired journalist, the film records the experience of ten students from North Plainfield High school in New Jersey during a three-day visit to the battlefield in April 2012.

Mussari and Loftus, residents of Dallas who wrote and produced the uplifting television series “Windsor Park Stories” from 1998 to 2009, created an open-air classroom that integrated living history, experiential learning and character education in a creative way. In the process, the students gained a deeper understanding of the epic battle but also its relevance and meaning to their own lives.

That meaning can be found in the enduring words of President Abraham Lincoln and Confederate general Robert E. Lee. Students with Gen and Mrs Lee_200 Although they were on opposite sides in the fratricidal conflict, their views on war and the responsibility of citizenship are just as relevant today as they were 150 years ago.

“It is well to know that war is so terrible, otherwise we should grow too fond of it.”- Robert E. Lee

The Battle of Gettysburg, which took place between July 1 and 3, 1863, marked a turning point in the Civil War. Confederate General Robert E. Lee had recently rallied his troops to a decisive victory at Chancellorsville, Virginia. But the need to gain supplies and the possibility of striking a final blow against the Union persuaded him to launch an invasion of the North.

In early June, Lee began maneuvering his army for the assault. After a hard-earned victory at Winchester, Virginia, the Confederates advanced across Maryland and into central Pennsylvania.

Frustrated by General Joseph Hooker’s timidity in halting the invasion, Lincoln replaced him with General George G. Meade, a Pennsylvanian, to lead the Army of the Potomac. Four days later, on July 1, Meade met Lee almost by accident at Gettysburg.

Heart Bleeds RELQuote_250During the next three days, more than 163,000 men waged a vicious and costly fight. Lee attacked repeatedly, but failed to dislodge the Union from their position, which extended along a four-mile front.

“My heart bleeds at the death of every one of our gallant men.” -Robert E. Lee

The climax of the battle came on the afternoon of July 3 when Confederate General George E. Pickett led a heroic but fruitless charge against the center of the Union lines, losing 7,000 of his 15,000 men.

Meade’s victory ended the most threatening Confederate invasion of the North, giving the Union an undisputed victory. The psychological impact of the battle was great for both armies.

If Lee had won, he might have been emboldened to launch another invasion, this time on Washington or Philadelphia. Such an attack would have rejuvenated the confederacy, possibly bringing foreign support.

Instead, Gettysburg became the “highCyclorama_250 tide” of the Confederacy. Lee’s army never fully recovered from the defeat. Of the 75,000 men who marched into battle, the Confederates lost 28,063; losses that not only inflicted a severe blow to southern morale, but would also prove to be irreplaceable.

On the other hand, the Union victory boosted Northern morale, proving that the Federal army could defeat the Confederacy if it had effective military leadership. But the victory came at a severe cost. Of the 82,289 men who fought for the Union at Gettysburg, 23,049 lost their lives.

“The struggle for today is not altogether for today – it is also for the vast future.” -Abraham Lincoln

Students doc and Kitch_250Tony Mussari first visited the Gettysburg battlefield at age 15 with his older brother, Ken, a teacher who he idolized. Mussari’s inspiration for the film was, in part, to pay tribute to his brother who died too early in life. He also views Gettysburg as the ideal setting for high school students to learn “about the values that speak to the greatness of our country, values like courage, compassion, kindness, forgiveness, leadership, reconciliation, and redemption.”

"To learn about this place is a lifetime pursuit," he added. That Mussari and Loftus chose to share the pursuit with students from the New Jersey high school was only natural.

After the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, the couple set out to record all that is good about our country with their documentary series, "The Face of America." While on their travels they stopped at a Flight 93 memorial service in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. There they met a group of North Plainfield High School cheerleaders who made a habit of visiting the site each year. They endeared themselves to Tony and Kitch, who were welcomed into the high school with open arms.

"We’ve become the adopted son and daughter of NorthStudents entering the GNMP_250 Plainfield," Tony said. "They have given an old teacher a new classroom."

Like all good teachers, Mussari and Loftus sweated the details of their latest project. They spent countless hours researching the Civil War and Gettysburg’s pivotal role in it, planning the trip, finding images in the Library of Congress and producing the film.

At North Plainfield, teachers prepared the students by incorporating the Battle of Gettysburg into their lesson plans. The music teachers taught the students songs from the Civil War and the woodworking teacher allowed students to replicate artifacts from the 1800s.

Tom Mazur Observing Students_250

Later, in Gettysburg, the students were treated to a tour of the battlefield with a licensed battlefield guide, living history presentations by actors portraying Abraham Lincoln and Robert E. Lee, and an extended visit to the recently-built museum, which includes a breathtaking panoramic painting of the battle. Throughout the trip, Mussari recorded the experience as well as student reactions in an unobtrusive way.

One of the biggest challenges in producing the documentary was integrating the mass of statistical data on the battle with historic images and the views of the major political and military leaders. To that end, quotes from President Abraham Lincoln and General Lee frequently appear throughout the film, as do contemporary photographs, paintings and living history re-enactments, all of which are set to music from the Civil War era.

“Let us at all times remember that all American citizens are brothers of a common country, and should dwell together in the bonds of fraternal feeling.” – Abraham Lincoln

The genius of the film, however, is its ability to capture the profound insights of the ten high school students as their experience unfolded at Gettysburg.

“It was my job to ask the right questions,” Tony explained. “Not leading questions, but evocative ones. I had no idea what the responses would be.”

But Mussari also wanted to create an experience that would allowEnrie Simms_250 students to grow, both intellectually and personally. Considering the responses of his students, the experience succeeded beyond all expectations.

“This experience really brought me up,” admitted Enrie Simms, an African American senior. “Because if you think you fail or you think you prosper, it’s only in vain if you don’t change, if you don’t become a better person.”

For Mark Havrilla, the experience reinforced his decision to go into the military. He called it the same “sense of duty to country” that inspired the men who fought at Gettysburg.

Craig Lewis was less certain of how Gettysburg would impact his future, but every bit as appreciative. Lewis, who immigrated to this country from Jamaica and now attends Rutgers University, gave Mussari perhaps the greatest compliment that any student can give to a teacher. “Sir,” he said at the end of the three-day trip, “I will remember this for the rest of my life.”

Crowd_1127_300“Walking into the Light at Gettysburg” premiered in Lenfest Theater at Gettysburg National Battlefield before an enthusiastic audience of people from six states on January 19, 2013. It was screened at the high school in North Plainfield, New Jersey, on April 13, and a special screening of the film was hosted by the Wyoming Valley Civil War Round Table. Thus far, more than 1,000 viewers have seen the documentary and on all three occasions, they greeted it with a standing ovation.

The film will be shown again at the Northeast Pennsylvania History Conference at Luzerne County Community College’s Educational Conference Center on Friday, September 20 at 2:30 p.m. Admission is free and open to the public.

(Published in the Citizens’ Voice, Wilkes-Barre, PA Sunday, July 7, 2013)

William C. Kashatus teaches history at Luzerne County Community College. He can be contacted at

For Further Reading: Michael Shaara, “The Killer Angels” (1974)

Photographs courtesy of Mussari-Loftus Associates, Ltd.